Advent and John the Baptist

I like John the Baptist. He was an outlier and his job was to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. He did it zealously and successfully. He dressed like a bum and was a freegan, eating bugs and wild honey. He was an ascetic, never drinking wine, nor ever cutting his hair. His parents were old when he was born and were among the religious elite. John did not follow in their footsteps. He called the religious elite a brood of vipers and died young, at the hands of the state, for speaking to power without fear.

Later on, when the early church wrote about Jesus, John's cousin, they recognized John's importance to Jesus' story. When they met each other fetus to fetus, John leapt for joy in his mother's womb. When he was warning people to repent for the kingdom of God is near, baptizing people in the Jordan River as a symbol of their changed lives, they saw in his actions fulfillment of the words of the Hebrew prophets Malachi and Isaiah. He brought mountains low, convicting the elite of their selfishness, and raised up the valleys, bringing hope to the down trodden. John considered himself unworthy of even lacing his cousin's sandals. John only baptized Jesus, knowing Jesus had nothing to repent of, because Jesus insisted on humbling himself in this ritual.

Despite all this, while John was in prison, he doubted. Jesus had not overthrown Rome. Jesus was hanging out with the valley people, drunks, whores, Roman civil servants. John, who had been so certain, doubted. He had talked of the coming king who would take his axe to those bad trees who did not show fruits of repentance. Yet the religious and political elite were still in power. Yet his life was still in danger.

Jesus was doing it wrong in John's eyes. John sent his students to ask Jesus if he had made a mistake hoping in Jesus. Jesus replied, look at what's happening around me, miracles and healing. But Jesus' students were not ascetics. Jesus did not fulfill his cousin's expectations. Jesus' unconventional methods were not successful with the elite, but with the outcasts. He took the side of the poor and the oppressed. He met them at their parties. He met them in territory where good Jews did not go. Jesus compared himself to new wine which can only be poured into new wineskins, which are able to expand with the fermentation process.

Advent is a time for me to remember that Jesus does things unconventionally. He is active in the margins. He can be found among Muslim refugees. He can be found among church refugees, those cast out for their non-conformity or non-elite status. He is for the minority, whether in skin color, heritage, gender, sexual orientation, etc.

In America, at the beginning of the 20th century, Jesus energized the margins among poor church folk who were African-American and white American. That Pentecostal movement has grown into the biggest Christian movement apart from the Catholic church in this century. Churches in Germany are seeing an influx of Syrian refugees today. They are the wrong religion to many Americans today, but Jesus is there with them.

The valleys are filled in with the rubble of the mountains. It's scary to be undermined by Jesus when you are up high. To resist him is to miss out on the elevation of all those in the dark valleys that he comes to give light to. He will not do it in conformity with our expectations, unless we expect it to happen in reckless love. He is light for dark places. He is love for the hated and despised. He is our brother who wants to unite us into one family.

John the Baptist already knew Jesus was doing all sorts of miracles, yet he still doubted. Ultimately, his doubts were unfounded. Jesus' reckless love is still changing the world.


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